Writing on the edge of Grub Street

August 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

Alas alack, my operatic appreciation tends to fall on the lighter side of the genre and whilst ruminating on the paucity of my writing income, a ditty sung by Nanki-Poo from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado trilled through my mind: “A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches, of ballards, songs and snatches, of dreamy lullaby. My catalogue is long, through passion ranging, and to your humours changing, I tune my supple song….”, which pretty much describes the online writing game.

Funny how thoughts, and then coincidences, come in threes: I know, I know, the more prosaic of you will say there is no such thing as coincidence, that we are in fact on the look-out, albeit unwittingly, for connections. Those links that allow our minds to flow from one thought to another – or as some I know call it, the butterfly effect.

Be that as it may a couple of unexpected connections have crossed my path recently. An article in the Opinion Page of the New York Times by Tony Horwitz called “I was a Digital Best Seller!” http://nyti.ms/1pNPJpo in which he, a credited journalist and author, chronicled his negative experience with a new online publication that quickly became defunct.

Then I came across a line by Dr Samuel Johnson, that chronicler of London life and compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language, and who was for a time in the employ of The Gentleman’s Magazine, housed on Grub Street, London. Dr Johnson described the street in the early 1800’s as “much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called ‘grubstreet’.” Stephen Halliday in his 2013 guide to London’s literary landmarks described the street as “home to several journals which were regarded as scurrilous by the authorities.” A reputation aided no doubt by the prosecution of a number of the publishers. And so Grub Street was soon taken to mean “any low-quality hack writing, or the struggling writers who produced it.”

Dr Johnson also wrote, “no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” And therein lies my dilemma. Before Summertime Publishing accepted my first book, I was told in no uncertain terms I would need to establish ‘a platform’, in essence an audience. I diligently set about starting this blog, thank you by the way for reading it, though I soon strayed from the accepted wisdom of sticking to one topic. In my case it was to be all things expatriate, including intercultural issues, that being my declared expertise. However if you are a regular reader you will know my interests and passions are varied, and at times my rage great, hence the wide-ranging topics covered.

When Expat Life Slice by Slice was published in March 2012 I assiduously set about finding, with the help of my publisher, anyone willing to allow me to write a guest blog. I was interviewed for radio and television in The Hague, and by many generous bloggers. My writing, travel articles and pieces on expatriation, have been accepted for both print and online publications, and I have had short stories accepted for anthologies, but here’s the rub; none of them pay.

Doors have definitely opened, and my confidence as a writer has grown, but I wonder how long I must expect to flog my work for the ‘satisfaction’ of seeing my name float nebulously in the ether. There is concrete evidence of my ability in the form of quarterly royalties, but unlike those garnered by James Paterson for example, they do not cover many bottles of sauvignon blanc.

What about self-publishing I hear you say? I made a pact with my writing self that I would not go that route. I lack the confidence, knowledge or energy required to follow that path, and it takes time away from writing – what this is all about.

I have a novel, The Twittering of Sparrows, with two publishers at the moment, though I have little expectation of success. Which is not say I don’t think the story is good, it is. But I am honing my craft, learning all the time, and am onto the next novel, and then the next. Each novel I hope inching me toward that heady day when a publisher deems my writing worthy of attention.

Until, not if (one must remain positive), my work is accepted I suppose I am either shackled to editors eager for copy but not eager to pay, or must lose my edge in the world of google. Horowitz calls his experience, “a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we’re so often told is a bright shining future for writers and readers.”

In the end all I can do is accept I am on the edge of Grub Street, that I must continue to “tune my supple song”, thank the generosity of my supportive spouse and pour another glass.


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